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The Nutcracker

by on 18 January 2018

Joyful Dreaming

The Nutcracker

Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky

Moscow City Ballet, Richmond Theatre
with Swan Lake until 21st January

Review by Suzanne Frost

Moscow City Ballet is one of those companies that ride on the wave of Russian ballet’s reputation for excellence – but they are not the Bolshoi. Just to make that clear. However, with their extensive touring schedule, they do bring classical ballet productions to all corners of the world and probably function as a first introduction to the art form for many people far and wide … and as a first introduction this works just fine.

Nutcracker3

The philosophy behind Victor Smirnov-Golovanov’s staging seems to be more is more. This Nutcracker is prop-tastic, the limited stage of the Richmond Theatre is full of people holding lots of stuff. Well it is Christmas after all: there’s teddy bears and dolls, champagne glasses and flower bouquets and animal masks etc. etc.

The first act at family Silbergaus’ Christmas Eve party can be mime heavy and Golovanov makes a welcome effort to do much of the storytelling through dancing. The three automatic dolls that Uncle Drosselmeyer brings to the party are used as a clever storytelling device, acting out the legend of the battle of the Nutcracker against the Mouse King so that ties in nicely. Clara recognizes herself in the ballerina doll drawn into the fight and learns what to do for later when the action gets real. A special mention should go to Kseniya Eriusheva who plays Clara’s brother Fritz (all the boy children are played by female ensemble members): full of energy and enthusiastic acting, she also has by far the best technique and professionally trained feet and legs. The technical standard within the company varies immensely and there are some girls in the chorus line who can count themselves very lucky to be called professional dancers. Golovanov’s ideas and choreography are mostly very nice, fast paced and pretty. The Christmas party is sufficiently festive; the magical elements give mystery. I liked the Snowflakes in their fluffy longer tutus. But occasionally I didn’t get the choices: why, on the most sensual and swinging B motive of the Spanish dance would you let the ballerina do fouettées, a snappy sharp turn that needs an even rhythm? But all the divertissement get to show off their pirouettes, fouettées from everyone seems to be a thing. The Russians love virtuosity. But, as I mentioned, not everyone at Moscow City Ballet is on the same level.

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One of the challenges of staging The Nutcracker is to tie the two acts together: the first full of storytelling, the second a random suite of divertissement and waltzes. Golovanov’s explanation is that everything from the fighting mice to the waltzing flowers is a dream Drosselmeyer brewed up for his godchild Clara, acting a bit as the BFG of ballet. Works for me. Nobody need a logical explanation for a Sugar Plum Fairy reigning over the Kingdom of Sweets anyway. But then once he conjures up a dream prince for Clara, Drosselmeyer suddenly seems jealous and fights for her affection, a dramaturgical decision I didn’t understand at all. The dream pas de deux for Clara and her prince is arguably some of the most beautiful music of the entire score and I liked a lot of the choreography here – until Drosselmeyer kept pulling Clara back and forth across the stage away from her prince. Daniil Orlov is quite a handsome fellow and his Drosselmayer was a charming, slightly geeky presence on stage but this twist in the story gave me a taste of creepy uncle.

Liliya Orekhova is announced in the programme as the face of the company and Golovanov’s favourite dancer so I had high expectation. She does indeed look like a picture perfect ballerina with a ruling stage presence and I assume she will be lovely in the forthcoming Swan Lake but here, she doesn’t actually get to do very much. The grand pas de deux is done by Clara, now in a tutu. The adage is fairly acrobatic and looks like hard work. Talgat Kozhabaev is a solid partner and a charming prince. The choreography for the Sugar Plum Fairy variation is quite hard and accentuated, which suits an energetic dancer like Ksenia Stankevich – but not necessarily Tchaikovsky’s delicate glockenspiel music. The Hungarian Sinfonietta Orchestra under Igor Shavruk seems on good form (in their little makeshift pit) adding to a rich ballet experience that occasionally seems fit to burst the limits of Richmond Theatre.

Moscow City Ballet are keen to keep alive the tradition of classical Russian ballet. I’m always a bit weary of anyone trying to preserve anything in art, as it always seems so dead set on conservatism and the good old days. As a touring company, they have a valid existence, as Moscow ballet is often bringing ballet to the provinces, giving especially children a chance to experience their first big classical ballet production. But in London, the Royal Ballet offers a bog-standard traditional version of The Nutcracker with the added bonus of perfectly stretched knees and pointed toes. Just saying. For the ballet connoisseur, Moscow ballet is a tad rough around the edges. For the novice, the once a year theatregoer and the many, many children in the sold-out Richmond theatre, I think this was a joyful production with coherent storytelling and the right amount of kitsch. Good enough.

Suzanne Frost
January 2018

Images courtesy of PMB Presentations

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